Attorney General Jeff Sessions is preparing to reverse an Obama administration policy that shielded legalized marijuana from federal intervention and enabled the pot industry to flourish, a senior Justice Department official told NBC News on Thursday.
In doing so, Sessions will give U.S. attorneys in states where marijuana is legal like California and Colorado the green light to aggressively enforce federal marijuana law, which prohibits growing, buying and using pot. While Sessions is giving permission to prosecute marijuana cases, he did not explicitly call for it.
The move could conceivably set-up a legal showdown between federal prosecutors and state officials.
The previous Justice Department policy, which was laid out in a 2013 memo from former deputy attorney general James Cole, said federal prosecutions would focus on cases of peddling pot to minors, sales of marijuana across state borders, for growing on federal land, or when it involved gangs or organized crime.
The move by the nation’s top law enforcement official comes the same week that California began selling recreational marijuana.
It has been legal in Colorado since 2014 and in six other states — Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine. There are also thriving medical marijuana programs in 28 states.
Sessions has long been a cannabis foe who famously said “good people don’t smoke marijuana” during a 2016 Senate hearing. He also was accused of telling late assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Figures that he thought the KKK was “OK until I found out they smoked pot.”
This was after Sessions learned that Klan members had gotten high the night they kidnapped a murdered a young black man. Sessions insisted he was joking.